Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Self-Inflicted Misery

I paused a few feet up the street to rub the varnished nose of a copper bull pulling a cart, part of a street sculpture. I had done my part to consume two bottles of Malbec. And now I was embarked on a solitary uphill stroll homeward at 11:30 PM. There are Korean flags waving from the light poles. There were French country style chandeliers, dripping glass beads, providing dim illumination in the painted white brick wine bar. The cobblestone streets in the art district are made of beveled volcanic rock. Ahead was a distant chatter of voices. Beside me were pictures under the fluorescent lit awning, on which I was unable to focus. I sensed other semi-inebriated people walking the street. Echoes of laughter ricocheted from the restaurants past which I plunged at a rapid pace. Around the corner, in the darkness, a man was urinating in a flower bed. He paused momentarily when he saw me approaching, but I was aware of him only incidentally. I strode rapidly forward, passing dozens of similarly (and more sorely) afflicted individuals, some arm in arm, most male. I heard muffled curses in Korean, saw people drunkenly bowing to each other on the sidewalks at the roundabout. The evening was cool and otherwise quiet. On the street, the occasional scooter buzzed by towards home or on a delivery. Propped up against a green plastic post waiting for the light to change, I found myself hoping that the drivers were more sober than I, or otherwise I'd be smushed crossing at the signal; moments later, right behind me, a truck breezed through the red light without pausing.

I arrived home two minutes shy of becoming a pumpkin to unwind the scarf from my neck and fill my waiting glass with a combination of lavender tea and apple juice. I thought I needed to write annotations for commentary on an 18th century Scottish poet. OK, I felt sick, lolling in an office chair in front of my double screened computer. My head and my gullet were not in the same time zone, and I felt thoroughly nauseated. Periodic defensive burping threatened to bring up the whole almonds that I had consumed, or the crackers with cream cheese that had been served on a discrete rectangular ceramic plate alongside the vino. I wondered if I could keep my head perfectly still, as if I were a marble sculpture or a postoperative spinal fusion patient of the old school--perhaps then I would feel as if I were not about to vomit. Perhaps. But as it was, I was sick. Why should one have to suffer so grievously for two glasses of wine? I drank water! Admittedly not at first, and I was dehydrated, but I did cut my second glass of wine with water. But Malbec on an empty stomach at the outset seems to have been a mistake. Never mind that two of my companions confessed to having met beaux at the location. How can anyone feel good after two glasses without a thick steak to absorb the bad vibes? How can one feel romantic when she can't even see straight?

I had the happy discovery of finding that I had already written the annotations, and I turned off the computer again. And I dropped on my bed to feel nauseated. Bleh. A hot shower and a thorough toothbrushing temporarily relieved my symptoms, but they were soon back until an hour or so had passed and the chemicals had moved through my system. This is why I characteristically nurse a glass in quiet for three hours rather than consume two in two in company. Some people are social drinkers; I am an antisocial drinker. I am much more moderate when I am alone than distracted. I had one glass weeks ago and the bottle has been vinegarizing in my fridge since. But when I am in company I haven't any such self-limitation. True, for many people two glasses isn't overdoing it, but for me it's sickening, literally and figuratively. Barf. 

Tomorrow I am supposed to have lunch with some women from my adult conversation class. They had invited me for today, but our teachers' meeting is on Tuesdays, and there was no time. Tomorrow being a rare holiday, I figured I had better take advantage of it and accepted their invitation. 

This weekend is the fire festival. It is a Jeju tradition left over from pagan times. In order to appease the local gods and assure bountiful harvests in the coming year, the islanders would set an entire oreum on fire. It's apparently a spectacular sight. I hope I can attend. It depends on how I feel. Two of my fellow teachers were given torches last year and encouraged to run forward to light the designated hill. They said it was exciting. It certainly appeals to my internal pyromaniac! 

The wine bar is linked to a florist's shop where two white Persian cats wander among the exotic flowers. They are lovely, normal looking cats, unlike the white cat at one of the nearby veterinarians' offices, an animal which is shaved and dyed with two pink dots on its cheeks and a yellow dot on its tail to resemble the popular cartoon character Pikachu. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

One Million Won Later...

The humidity in my apartment is finally below 50%. An appliance store down the street was having a sale, and so I walked there Saturday and used my smartphone to communicate the fact that I needed a dehumidifier. They had three models in stock. All were the same price, the most expensive model having been marked down to 499,000 won. I got two of them; one for my bedroom, the other for my living room space. I can control them remotely with my phone. They each removed 3 to 4 cups of water from the air within an hour. This should most definitely reduce the amount of mold I have to deal with. Of course, it's a quite the costly method! Still, I am already breathing easier, and I should be able to get some of my money back by selling the machines to other people in damp dwellings when I leave.

What was funny was that the young suit-clad man who helped me kept politely referring to me as "omoni" (mother) throughout the transaction and later, when he helped me hail a taxi to take me and my two heavy boxes the half mile home. He and some other staff members also got me set up with a conglomerate point card--multiple repetitions of my name, birth date, and telephone number ensued until the system finally found an iteration it would accept. I haven't any secrets. I did send Customer Service a nice note telling them how much I appreciated his help – I don't know that any American salesperson that would have been as patient and cheerful as he was given my limited understanding of his language.

By and large (the exception being a few recalcitrant taxi drivers--but taxi drivers are their own breed internationally...I have had taxi drivers in the US probe subjects that are conventionally taboo), the Koreans hereabouts have been extremely nice to me--not just when I am spending vast sums on appliances! I don't know that Americans would take the time to assist people who don't speak English the way that local folks have been willing to help a non-Korean speaker like me. The girl at the bank may shudder every time she spots me in the waiting area, but she has been the soul of cordiality.

My pedometer says I have taken 31 steps today. I did not go to church. I have not gone to school to turn in my grades. I have not done anything. I have just rested. I ache. I have spent hours carefully dictating my student evaluations into my phone, so that will be ready to go out early tomorrow morning. I plan to go to school early, get there before anybody else, put in the grades, and be done with it. I really hope I feel better this week. We're supposed to have Wednesday off--it is a federal holiday recognizing resistance to Japanese occupation--and then my March schedule starts. I have 2 new classes: a group of first-graders who are just learning the alphabet, and a class of fourth-graders that Waldo told me are wild.

One day at a time!

Friday, February 24, 2017


Groups of teenagers loitering on the street near my house have started to greet me when I come home from work with shouts of "Hello!" followed by giggling. The groups do not include any of my students. I think I shall start responding to them with "Greetings, jujubes. Do you come in peace?" and work out from there.

I'm exhausted, I've been sick all week with a bad croaking and coughing cold, and for the last 24 hours I've been repeatedly biting a spot on the inside of my bottom lip every time I eat something. And I've got an entire month's worth of grading to be done Saturday – I got an extension, since it was due Friday. I was just too tired to deal with it. Classes this week seemed to go pretty well, though, praise God.  Most of my students are so sweet, and many of them are really funny, with one yesterday making a role for himself as a talking coffin in a dramatic adaptation of a textbook birthday party conversation in Dracula's castle. I am so grateful for the elementary and middle school curriculum--it has manageable portions and random juxtapositions (Dracula, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein's monster all appeared in the chapter we're doing on how much/how many), and because it's so neatly organized, it doesn't take long to prepare for the day's lessons. The adult classes take much, much longer--I spent between six and seven hours organizing material for the two hour class I taught on Thursday morning on the English consonant sounds, their phonemic symbols, and the many wacko spelling variations representing that sound which students might encounter. I would say that's normal prep time, given that I'm having to generate almost all the worksheets from scratch. Of course, when they are applicable, materials that my able predecessor composed are what I prefer to use, but for the sounds class there wasn't anything that was in the right format with the details I needed.

We said goodbye at lunch on Friday – shabu shabu at a different restaurant, where we finished the meal with kimchi fried rice -- to my American colleague who is the living image of a famous comic character, down to the round black glasses, the black curly hair, and the stocking cap which he was wearing the moment I met him. My first thought at the time was, "I've found him! It's Waldo!" But like Carmen SanDiego, he's disappearing again into another landscape. An avid outdoorsman, he hopes to do trail maintenance in the western US while he considers his next move.

The marketing site suddenly and inexplicably cancelled my dehumidifier order on Thursday. One of my Korean colleagues mentioned it might be because we are on Jeju, to which many mainland companies don't deliver, or only after being paid a hefty fee. Well, they didn't say anything to that effect on the website. But I need my dehumidifiers, so I'm going to roam around town looking for likely specimens  once I feel up to getting out of bed. I also need to go grocery shopping. The cupboard is getting sort of bare. Gosh, I hate cooking. I need to marry a chef.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Weekend Whining

Successive meals of kimchi stew and tandoori chicken do interesting things to one's insides.

I had several very sick small students in class on Thursday and Friday, and have acquired significant symptoms of our interaction – I'm growling like a 40 year smoker and coughing. I do have a white cotton face mask now in order to mark myself as one of the unclean. They sell them at Office Depot here, alongside cute little tiny ones printed with cartoon characters for children.

One of the local emarketing sites gave me the opportunity to spend half last month's salary on two plug-in room dehumidifiers. I shopped around for better deals before taking the plunge, but the damp in my rooms is too much to be ignored any longer, or combatted with tiny desiccant packs. I think it's the reason I haven't been able to sleep lately, shivering under my several blankets – a moist environment exaggerates the temperature, and though the weather seems to have turned a corner during daylight hours from winter to spring, at nighttime it still gets quite chilly. And I certainly don't need any more mold to grow!

The kimchi stew Saturday night was quite tasty, despite its subsequent repercussions. It came to the table boiling in a large metal bowl, and I wondered how on earth two people could be expected to consume all that food. We did.

Sunday, June and I traveled to the other side of the island. The sermon at the church there was good, but the music was nigh unbearable: one or more vocalists in the praise band was stridently off key, and even though the words were biblical, I found it very difficult to sing without wincing. It made me appreciate the beautiful choir at the Korean church and the praise team at the local small English service I attend even more than I had. I know that ultimately God wants us to make a joyful noise with a devoted heart, but if you're leading public worship, it's good to be in tune. But I also know how difficult it is to turn down someone who's willing to serve - even in the United States, it's sticky trying to explain to someone that their talents don't match their enthusiasm. Here, people can be profoundly hurt by such insinuations, seeing the judgment as a "loss of face."

After lunch at the halal Indian place with two fun girls we'd met at church (I was rather bummed not to meet the fellow from my hometown – apparently he was spotted in the crowd but ducked out quickly at the end of the service), June and I walked 5 1/2 miles to the airport to catch the express bus across the island. It was much more comfortable than the backroad local stops bus, and I was able to doze by the window. Of course, this trip I had taken dramamine and was wearing my wristbands.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Suicide In South Korea

Last year, according to the World Health Organization, South Korea led the world in suicides per capita, surpassing even long time leader Guyana. There were 36.8 self-caused deaths for every hundred thousand people, or almost 4 for every 10,000, or 1 in every 2500. That's an incredible carnage. A contributing reason is certainly the singular definition of success as academic excellence and financial affluence. When even second graders are characteristically sent to after-school school like the one where I teach, it's no wonder that young people are overwhelmed, that they don't have time to relax and be kids.

Last night, two of my colleagues and I met up for dinner with an American guy who teaches with EPIK, and he told me that while his own schedule is fairly light, the Korean teachers with whom he works are at school before 8 AM and do not leave until after 10 PM-they eat both their midday and their evening meals in the school cafeteria, along with their students. The high school students mostly live in dormitories because they study so late and so hard that they do not have time to live at home and commute. On one level this is an admirable level of commitment, but on another it's simply absurd – and how much does it really pay off?

This focus on collective excellence is sort of a national boot camp experience, an intellectual agony in which all participate. And then the men have to go off to the Army for two years! So ultimately the guys have been Koreanized twice--once by the rigor of the educational system, and another in identification with the country in national defense. I had wondered why there was such intense camaraderie among schoolfellows: like people who've been in the same platoon, they keep in touch and meet together for social events throughout their lifetime. Now I know why. They have been in the same platoon (the same class). They've spent every waking hour together for years and years and years and sweated out successive exams. The exam to get into high school is almost as brutal as the one to get into college, or more so because it will ultimately determine how well the student will be equipped for the national college entrance exam. Middle schoolers study all night for months for the high school qualification tests.

I wonder if Americans have a different definition of friendship than Koreans simply because we have comparatively so much free time to choose with whom we associate. If you don't have uncommitted time to choose, you just have to deal with those people that you are put with. I'm not saying that Koreans don't hang out with people they like, but I think you are willing to put up with a whole lot more personality incompatibility when you've been through fire together, and you're part of the same group. On one level you may even loathe one another, but there's a level of connection from the shared academic hardship you've endured that can't be easily overlooked.

But all this pressure is certainly too much for a lot of people. They fail an exam and they feel the world has ended. They may lose their job, and they feel they aren't a success. And they hang themselves, poison themselves, or throw themselves from buildings. Suicide is the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 30 in South Korea. My students come to school when they ought to be home in bed clutching hot water bottles to their chests and zoned out on cold medicine. Some of them look so tired, even the little ones, and they fall asleep in class, their heads drooping over the desks. I've had third and fourth graders come in and tell me that they were exhausted, or sad. I hope and pray that I will be more sensitive to the rigor that they are enduring. I tend to act as if mine is the only class in the world. I do want them to behave and pay attention, but I also want to realize that mine is just one of an entire catalog of classes that they are taking after they get out of regular school, including math, science, and Korean language. I wonder if they have any time to just play?

I am so grateful that I had plenty of time to run around and goof off and read whatever I wanted when I was in elementary school. I did have an hour of homework each night – more than most, I expect, because it took me so long to do even basic tasks – but I got plenty of sleep, had supper at home, and wasn't overburdened. True, I am not a success nowadays in the Korean definition, as I do not have an especially high-ranking profession, nor do I make much money. And yet, I am generally healthy and happy and capable of engaging with the world. I do applaud self-discipline and high goals, but when everyone has an identical goal, it seems to me that it leads to disappointment more often than not. 

This past week, I had a little fourth-grader looking terribly mournful in my class, and she told me sadly that work was boring. She said her homework was boring, and that grown-up work was boring. Poor little thing, looking ahead to a lifetime of drudgery. I told her that though her homework might be boring, grown-up work did not have to be boring. I showed her and her classmates my Atlanta brother's business website as an illustration of a job that was interesting, and I explained that my job was never boring because the people I met were interesting--that work could be fun if you were using your brain to learn or create something. I hope she was encouraged a smidgen.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Shabu Shabu

You know fundamental exhaustion has arrived when you realize that you just apologized to your light switch for turning it off.

One of the benefits of OCD (even well-managed, it's still a part of my personality) is being able to concentrate really well. The chief hazard of OCD is being able to concentrate really well. I was tired Wednesday night so I went to bed early, setting my alarm so I would have an hour or so to work on lesson planning before my adult class began at 10. I woke at midnight, and decided that since I was awake I might as well work on the lesson plan. I felt a lovely PowerPoint presentation of the most common prepositions of place (rather than those of time) would be useful. I'm still not good at composing PowerPoint presentations from scratch, but if I have the bones of something to work with, I can put a little muscle and sinew on them. I was up till 6 AM. I actually only fleshed out the PowerPoint presentation for four hours – it took me another two to get my brain sufficiently relaxed to slip into unconsciousness. And I had to get up for my class at nine.

If anything, teaching teaches me of my own inadequacies, and how reliant I am on the Almighty's strength for getting through the day. It's not just when I'm exhausted, but exhaustion certainly  makes this dependency ever more clear.

June and a girlfriend of ours went out to shabu shabu Tuesday night, which happened to be Valentine's Day. I had several of my younger classes color valentines for their family. Here, women give men handmade chocolates (another commercial romantic holiday, White Day, is for the men to reciprocate). However,  there is clearly male to female sweet-giving going on, too, as when we walked to the restaurant after work, there were several enterprising vendors selling prepackaged gift baskets on the street for last-minute male purchase.

Shabu shabu is Korean hot pot. You leave your shoes by the door, plunk yourself on a little mat next to the low table, and they bring a large cauldron of broth, put the heat on to boil, and then present you with a huge plate of vegetables and another of extremely thin sliced meat. Using the scissors on the table, you cut up the vegetables–which include both recognizably mushroomy mushrooms and much more leafy, purple-brown, seaweed-like mushrooms – and add to them broth, then add the meat. It cooks quickly. You tong and ladle it into your personal bowl, season it to taste, and chopstick and spoon it into you until you are stuffed. In the meantime, they bring another plateful of vegetables, which you also cook and eat. Then, to finish the meal, they bring a plate of fresh pasta in three flavors: plain, beet, and green tea, which you cook in the remainder of the broth, which has been topped off a couple of times with added water, and slowly slurp the noodles. Then you breathe a contented sigh, roll up to the cash register and pay less than $14 per person for this enormous repast. 

June and I walked almost 7 miles last Saturday, exploring the southernmost village in South Korea. My crows feet were crusted with a rime of dried tears from the ocean wind. The ripe oranges on the trees were swinging like bright Christmas ornaments. At a statue commemorating the local haenyeo (female divers for which Jeju is famous) I made the acquaintance of a very friendly dog, who led us along the olle trail for about half a mile before going down from the road to visit a cafĂ© it obviously knew, where one of the employees presented it with a biscuit after it sat down politely. We passed modest building with Hebrew and Korean lettering on the sign – is there a synagogue on Jeju?

My adult students have given me roses, tangerines, oranges, chocolate, and tea, and a hand fan. Unfortunately, the man who used to bring me coffee has not reappeared in my class since he found that I wasn't drinking it. I don't know if this is circumstantial, or if I have offended him. I hope not! I have a very sweet Chinese student in the class who always asks good questions. It is so useful when people ask questions! It helps me figure out what's not getting communicated. I can pontificate for hours, but what's being understood is the real issue.

I gave the invocation at the English service at the local church last week. I was a little blindsided by being asked to do so, since they hadn't made me go through any procedure to ensure I'm theologically sound or anything. I take notes during the sermon – perhaps that's a litmus test? This coming Sunday, June and I plan to go back across the island to the larger English language service. I plan to wear my seasickness bands and take Dramamine for that stomach-churning bus ride. Two weeks ago, she went over and met a fellow there from our hometown, who went to a school I attended. It's a small world.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Culture Shock

At six weeks in, I think I'm starting to get a bit of culture shock. For one thing, a group of Koreans standing around after church today informed me that I looked like Ellen DeGeneres.

And there is no iodized salt here. Apparently because seafood forms such a high component of the native diet, it's not necessary. So I've been scrounging to find things that have iodine--thyroid  problems run in my family. I've settled for the time being on baked seaweed, which I've been eating in stacks of rectangular green sheets as a pre-bedtime snack.

My bathroom is like a meat locker, even when I leave the double cased windows tightly closed. There is only floor heat in the main room and the bedroom, and unless it's ratcheted up to a considerable level, the warmth is undetectable. When I paid last month's gas bill at the bank the other day, the sweet little teller who has helped me numerous times before gasped that the amount was equal to the sum that most Koreans pay per annum. Amy can testify that my apartment temperature is hardly at sauna level – there is simply no insulation in the walls, and the one space heater I have is only effective within a 3 foot radius.

I got a haircut the other day. Very nice salon. Good cut. $15! There was a woman getting a perm at the same time I was there, and her hair was hooked up to one of those electrical machines that looks like an automatic milker – dozens of tubes and wires dangling from a circular frame. I'd only seen pictures of such contraptions dating from the 1920s, which I thought was the last time that they had been used regularly.

One of the older ladies at Amy's church is mortally offended by Google's rendering of phrases in the familiar rather than in the formal version of Korean. She doesn't seem to realize that Amy has no control over the rendering, that English does not have a formal version, and so it's not like she's trying to be cheeky!

Praise God that my adult classes went well last week. However, the fellow who's been bringing me coffee found out on Thursday morning that I can't drink it. I dearly hope that his feelings aren't permanently injured--Two weeks ago, I had asked a Korean if I should go ahead and tell him "no thanks," but I was advised that it was unnecessary, and now he looks hurt. I hope I haven't stepped into intercultural quagmire. I did assure him that I was very grateful for the coffee, I just couldn't consume it lest I get a headache.

Speaking of headaches, I've had those and upset stomach several times lately. Thursday was so bad I had to run out in the middle of one of my elementary school classes. I was able to return in time to catch two of my little boy students sneaking down the stairs. Mischievous giggly creatures. I told my colleagues I was going to swill an entire bottle of wine in an effort to cure what ailed me, but as usual this was all talk--and because alcohol makes me twitchy, even the two mulled mugfuls I'd sipped kept me awake until they percolated out of my system around 1 AM. I did consume a very good wedge of Dutch cheese in the meantime: described as "nutty and slightly sweet," I thought it fit me perfectly.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Two Weeks' Notes

I am like a homing pigeon. I rarely get turned around. My friend and colleague Amy, however, is considerably less comfortable navigating. As we left the Chinese restaurant at 10 PM last night by a different route than we’d arrived, she confessed, “I have a terrible sense of direction. I don’t know where I am. I mean, I know where I am at this moment, but I don’t know how to get away from here.” At which point we both started tittering on the street, even surrounded as we were by groups of chain-smoking men, who glanced at us curiously. We didn’t have any trouble getting to the coffee shop a mile away for cups of post-prandial hot chocolate. Today it has rained all day, so I’ve been forced to stay in and struggle with some of my postponed projects.

I guffawed Thursday night at the end of my last class. I did wait until the students had left to really let go, though I couldn’t restrain a few chuckles while they were still in their seats. I’m trying to get my sixth graders to recognize parts of speech; in particular that pronouns must have antecedents. Each short unit we read has a theme. This one was on homes in hot places, and the article briefly described subterranean houses in Tunisia: “They have more holes at the bottom that are used for store rooms….” “What is ‘they’?” I demanded of the class, pointing to the word. They started calling out all sorts of things, but the loudest and most persistent was “Tunisian people.” “Tunisian people don’t have any more holes in their bottoms than you do,” I pointed out, but this remark sailed right past their uncomprehending little heads. It was the end of the period and I gave up at that point.

I’ve had only a couple of nights of insomnia in the last month. Last Thursday night I was so tired: not only did my entire face sag, the underskin netting on my whole body felt like it was giving out. However, my nerves were still throbbing at a fever pitch that wouldn’t let me settle down and sleep. I tried melatonin, I tried Sonata, I tried various yoga poses, I tried eating carbs, I tried naproxen. But my bladder kept demanding to be emptied every five minutes – not that it needed to be!—in a nervous repetition of my usual pre-bed ritual. This lasted until past 10:15 in the morning. Thank God it was a holiday—Lunar New Year. It was a beautiful day outside. I hated to waste it. But by that time it had been 24 hours since I slept, and if I didn’t achieve unconsciousness, I felt I was going to burst into tears. Actually, I wished I really could burst into tears – it would have probably relaxed me to the point where I could doze off. But no such luck – I was in an emotional sober state, remarking on how my wall map of Jeju Island resembled a fried egg with a disturbingly green yolk in the middle—OK, I was crazy from lack of sleep, but calm. I wondered if maybe this is how people became morning alcoholics – they start to swill down whatever allows them to relax. But alcohol generally makes me twitchy, and I wryly considered that if I twitched any more rapidly at that point I’d look like a hummingbird. I did eventually get two hours of semi-unconsciousness.

The Korean conception of meat is not my conception of meat. Three Sundays ago, at the Korean church’s post-service meal, I eschewed a bowl of what looked like very thick cut very fat boiled bacon, preferring to limit myself to vegetable fare that I could recognize. Then a well-meaning lady came around with the bowl and a pair of chopsticks, saying that she had noticed that I hadn’t gotten any meat, and carefully placed two pieces on my plate. And there it stayed, untouched. Just because a piece of fat has been in the general vicinity of meat by sharing space in the same animal does not mean that it is magically transformed into protein. It was worse at the soup restaurant that Amy and I went to Friday a fortnight past – she ordered a bowl of soup so heavily spiced that it glowed red. The serving ladies couldn’t believe that a Westerner was eating this and kept anxiously coming back to check on her—this despite the fact that she had been to that restaurant and eaten the soup twice before. I had ordered what I hoped was the same vegetable content, but without the spice. What I got was a bowl of fat broth. It may have had a knuckle of something in it, but that was dwarfed by five large chunks of white fat. There wasn’t a shred of meat on them. The broth was bubbling furiously when it arrived at the table, steam rolling up. I considered what my options were and decided that adding most of the sliced chives and a good portion of the minced garlic that had come as side dishes were the best option. So I ended up with a decent bowl of onion soup. I just left the fat chunks sitting in a thin swill of broth at the bottom of the bowl at the end of my meal, like so many beached whales.

We’d been warned before New Year’s weekend to stock up on money and groceries, since little would be open—there was even a rumor that ATMs wouldn’t be in service! So Thursday night (before my insomnia) we went to Home+ for supplies. It was packed at almost 10 PM with people shopping, and they had specials on a lot of things (20¢ for a salad!) and several special New Years’ traditional sweets. I paid $12 for only 500g of Australian beef (real meat is quite expensive), and cooked it all day Friday wrapped up in aluminum foil with chopped carrots, broccoli, onions, and bell peppers. I don’t have an oven so I perched the foil packet on top of a metal vegetable steamer in my biggest pot, which I filled with water—basically creating a makeshift crockpot—and turned the gas flame as low as it would go. I refilled the underpot several times during the cooking process. The meal was delicious, and lasted Amy and me for two meals.

Saturday Amy and I went on a hike to the top of an oreum, which is what they call hills hereabouts. There are lots of oreumdal (hills) on Jeju, but only the one “yolk” of Hallasan. On our trek we passed the leavings of male litterbugs—green soju bottles and orange peels. We sat on top of the hill in a large concrete gazebo surrounded by a pebbled Buddhist meditation path—apparently supposed to massage your feet in some sort of holistic way if you walk on it barefoot. Nearby, in the woods between the gazebo and the Korean Broadcasting System tower, there was an impressive assortment of exercise equipment, which I prefer to think of as playground toys for seniors, since they are not weighted or adjustable, and so their value as muscle building machinery is considerably limited. But if one thinks of them as playground toys they immediately become more fun! There were contraptions to massage your back with, others that you could twist and turn on using your heels and your hips, more that you could use to do pull ups and sit ups. There was even a set of heavy duty monkeybars. Whereas I have loved jungle gyms since childhood, I have never mastered the monkeybars or been able to swing more than one or two rungs before falling off. To me, they are a concussion or a broken arm waiting to happen. But the other toys on the old folks playground were fun—and dizzying. I got off one thing that rocked me back-and-forth and felt like I was back on dry land after being onboard a ship for days: the ground rolled beneath my feet and it took a minute before I could walk straight. I’m not sure that’s a very good thing for a little old lady!

Sunday, with another Christian girl from school, we went across the island to a different church. The bus did not take the most direct route, and turned one way, then another, as it wound up and then down the mountain. It didn’t bother me so much going over on an empty stomach, but coming back about three hours after shoveling in a big Indian meal I was profoundly nauseated. Church was really good, with 70-90 people at the service, including an older Korean man who told me that he’d spent months in Roanoke, VA, back in 1979. The restrooms, though, were the first in Korea where I’ve not been able to find soap! The toilets did have heated seats and bidets built in, but I’m distinctly ambivalent about sitting directly on public toilets, much less letting them spritz my undercarriage with water from an unknown source, and so I forewent this particular amenity. The restroom at the DVD bang where we watched Il Postino after lunch had a similarly hi-tech toilet, but not enough room for the knees if you were even disposed to sit down. Clearly a woman had not been consulted on the design. A DVD bang consists of rental mini-theater rooms with big screens, surround sound and lounge chairs where you can bring your own snacks, and they are apparently quite popular among dating teenagers. We four girls (another Peace Corps friend of a friend of a friend had joined us at lunch) stopped at the CU—that’s a “CVS for You” minimart—before we climbed the stairs to look at the bang’s DVD collection. I liked Il Postino, of which I had only before seen the final five minutes.

The Indian restaurant displayed a document in English saying the restaurant was Muslim safe. It was signed by an academic associated with the local Islamic center. I imagine in a place as pork-belly-centric as Korea, it’s hard to find halal food. The lone server was a young man with beautiful faceted features who was probably a mixture of Korean and Arab/north African. I remarked to my companions that my elementary language skills might be improved by the male version of what the old European misogynists used to call “a sleeping dictionary” (their local mistresses), not that I was proposing untoward activities... One of my dinner companions reflected that she had had a Moroccan boyfriend while living in that country but they had always ended up talking in English. She also told us about her experience as an extra on the set of “Game of Thrones”—the producers paid the western extras three times what they paid the natives. She said it was fascinating, but that the experience also de-glamorized acting: various key characters had to repeat the same short scenes time and time and time again until the director felt the perfect shot had been filmed.

I had forgotten my anti-nausea wrist bands, and on the bus back across the island I pressed my wrist pressure points, but since I’m not double jointed, I couldn’t do both at the same time, and mashing one at a time didn’t seem to help matters much. I pushed my nose out the window as far as I could to gulp fresh air. At the upper elevations, there were little scrubby trees, small patches of snow in the grass by the roadside, and the rocky streams were dull with ice. Closer to the sea, the island’s beautification committee has imported and installed palm trees, in order to push the perception that Jeju is tropical. They are beautiful and I don’t think we need to fear a plague of palm trees, but one unwelcome and potentially troublesome import has been the magpies—basically large crows with white patches on their bodies and wings—which somehow made their way to the island a few years ago and are now proliferating without limit, as they have no native enemies.

I’m starting to run into people I know around town: at Emart Monday night, there were three faculty and staff from school (a teacher, the computer guru, and the housekeeper). The other evening, when Amy and I went out to Baskin-Robbins for a late night ice cream (I had green tea chocolate), one of my students was there. She didn’t actually say anything—it was her older brother who asked if I were a teacher at the hagwon while she attempted to hide. Her mother and I smiled and bobbed cordially at one another.

My evening adult conversation class ended on Tuesday. Thursday I began teaching an adult introductory English class in the morning. Thirty people were there my first day—a Korean instructor is leading it Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and I have Tuesdays and Thursdays. The two-hour class being funded by the government and is free for participants. I am quite nervous, as while it is fairly easy to carry on conversation with a small group, encouraging conversation among bigger groups is something I have to work on. Too, the skill levels of the participants (mostly female, but ranging in age from 25 to 75+) are immensely varied, from those who are thoroughly conversant in English (such as the lady from my old evening class—I was so happy to see her there!), to others who can barely introduce themselves. I went around and met everyone the first day. The vast majority consists of individuals newly arrived in Jeju—within the last five years, most of them, from Seoul or Busan. There’s even one lady from China. This is a real test of my CELTA training—I must limit my teacher talking time (TTT), one of my main instructional weaknesses!—and fill two consecutive hours without boring everyone’s socks off…